Monday, September 27, 2010

Human Knowing and Human Being: Come for the Truth, Stay for the Ecstasy

I'd like to continue on the theme of "Christian yoga" by delving into a book called The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, by the Catholic priest A.G. Sertillanges. It was recommended to us by the mysterious reader Joseph, who swept in, alerted us to the book, and promptly disappeared, his work here having been done.

But as the rabbi said, God spends most of his time arranging meetings and marriages (which is why God has been so much more busy since the rise of the internet), and the former can have an influence that long outlives their fleeting nature. You just never know where a good deed may lead -- nor, for that matter, how doing one may come back to haunt you. In a good way.

I guess this is on my mind because I was just explaining how it works to Future Leader yesterday. He put together a box of toys he no longer wants, in order to send them to Afghan children. Our military are able to forge ties with the community by giving them to the children, who otherwise have nothing to play with but a Koran. I tried to explain the principle of "what goes around comes around" to FL, and that eventually someone else would do him a good turn. He said, "but I don't want a Koran."

Okay, that last sentence was a joke. But the rest is true.

The Intellectual Life is really a meditation on the internal and external conditions necessary for what I would call a "Christian gnana yoga," or yoga of knowledge -- knowledge of God, to be be precise. These conditions are obviously quite different from those of a profane intellectual life, which pretty much don't matter. Anyone can do that, so long as they are a conformist with a good memory who can parrot back the current truth of the tenured rabble.

This book has nothing to do with that type of vulgar intellectual, who should really be called an "intellectualist," or someone who reveres and bows down before a disembodied intellect that is neither grounded in any transcendent reality -- which is to say reality -- nor bearing upon anything higher than a sack full of genetic copying errors that can accidentally "think."

But if errors could think, they would produce only error, not the least of which being errors about what intelligence is, where it comes from, and what its purpose is. Human intelligence severed from its sacred roots will eventually become demonic, because the intelligence in question is no longer human. Or, perhaps more problematically, all too human.

I have a note to myself at the back of the book: all true thought is a prayer, a link between being and existence.

I'm not even sure if I can usefully trancelight this book, since it is already so full of pithy insights that there's not much to add to it. But I'll try.

In the foreword, James Schall writes of "the intimate relationship between our knowing the truth" and "ordering our own souls to the good."

There you go: Christian yoga. Real knowledge is not only rooted in being, but orders our own being. Which necessarily implies that someone with an obviously disordered soul -- say, oh, Paul Krugman -- is inevitably going to spew a kind of "knowledge" that reflects that fact. He has no earthly idea that the much deeper question about an economic system is the type of person it shapes and facilitates. And socialism simply produces an inferior man -- narrow, selfish, petty, greedy, envious, entitled, lazy, and misanthropic.

Look at Bill Maher, one of the left's other leading philosopher-comedians, along with Stewart, Colbert, Garofolo, Franken, and Krugman. The other day I heard him say that Democrats were only unpopular because they weren't campaigning on their healthcare reform monstrosity. Larry King asked him why people don't like the bill, and he said it was because "Americans are stupid."

This is an admirably honest description of exactly how the left feels about us. But as a general rule, I would say that one should be suspicious of powerful strangers who express open contempt for you, and who want to diminish your freedom in order to impose lifetime obligations on you that you yourself would impose if only you weren't such a retard. Look, not only are you stupid, but you are racist, sexist, homophobic, and Islamophobic, so why wouldn't you rally behind people who aren't any of those things, and who know better how to run your life?

Really, it's a mystery why liberals are so unpopular.

Back to Schall's point about the relationship between knowledge and the order of the soul. Oddly enough, I was predisposed to believe this based upon my own non-religious education in psychoanalysis. Long story short, I initially approached it like any other intellectual endeavor, as if it were just a matter of reading enough books and memorizing all the theories. But soon enough I realized that no amount of knowledge would make one a "healer of souls."

Rather, there first had to be a transformation in one's own being. Truly, all the "knowledge" was only a residue of that deeper reality. This is why, for example, there are so many different schools of psychoanalysis, because the actual theory one uses doesn't matter nearly as much as the state of one's own soul.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with a certain professor who remains the most deeply brilliant man I have ever actually personally known. I asked him which psychoanalytic program I should apply to, and he said, "first, pick a good analyst. Then just flip a coin." In other words, the only thing that really mattered was healing oneself. The rest was just icing on the cake. Besides, without the proper grounding in being, you wouldn't know which knowledge was true anyway.

Much of what Sertillanges says bears upon this idea of being prior to knowing. For example, he says that you must begin -- begin! -- "by creating a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work." In other words, he doesn't direct you to particular books, theories, or thinkers, but to silence.

Why silence? In order to recollect. But recollect what, if I haven't even memorized anything? Just tell me what to know, and I'll rewordgitate it for you!

Sorry. We're talking about vertical recollection, or "re-membering" the living above, not the dead past. This is why we must "acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker. Without that you will do nothing, at least nothing worthwhile" (emphasis mine).

This immediately goes to the trinitarian nature of things, and the communion that is prior to, and a condition of, knowledge: "The intellectual is not self-begotten; he is the son of the Idea, of the Truth, of the creative Word, the Life-giver immanent in his creation. When the thinker thinks rightly, he follows God step by step; he does not follow his own vain fancy."

Thus, the knower is a function of Truth, not vice versa, as the typical superstitious secularist believes. Indeed, if Truth isn't prior, then there is simply no accounting for the knower, for how could knowledge be possible in the absence of truth?

The intellectual worker-be has the great privilege of taking part in "the truth conveyed to him by the universe." This "miraculous encounter" -- and it is miraculous -- is a kind of ec-stasy (which literally means to be outside, beyond, or beside oneself), "a flight upwards, away from self," a kind of self-forgetting "in order that the object of our delight may live in our thought and heart."

Christian yoga, baby. Miracles, ecstasy, delight, -- or sat-chit-ananda, being-consciousness-bliss, as they say in the East. Sounds good to me. And true.

All spiritual seeking moves towards an object of Knowledge to which men ordinarily do not turn the eye of the mind, to someone or something Eternal, Infinite, Absolute that is not the temporal things or forces of which we are sensible, although he or it may be in them or behind them or their source or creator. It aims at a state of knowledge by which we can touch, enter or know by identity this Eternal, Infinite and Absolute..., a knowledge that is not what we call knowledge but something self-existent, everlasting, infinite. And although it may or even must, since man is a mental creature, start from our ordinary instruments of knowledge, yet it must necessarily go beyond them... even if through mind and sense there can come a first glimpse of it or a reflected image. --Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga (Part II, The Yoga of Integral Knowledge)

13 Comments:

Blogger Russell said...

"philosopher-comedians"? Nah, they are too dross and mundane, more like philosofools.

Any joker that consistently telegraphs the punch line loudly and isn't funny to begin with doesn't merit to be called a comedian.

I'm thoroughly enjoying the yoga posts, B'ob!

9/27/2010 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

This is why, for example, there are so many different schools of psychoanalysis, because the actual theory one uses doesn't matter nearly as much as the state of one's own soul.

Also applicable to religions.

Regarding comedians, I heard the other day that older people do not catch on to humor as easily as younger people. I don't think that's right. I haven't lost my sense of humor; I just don't find Maher and Will Ferrell funny -- I mean, Stewart/Colbert snark is amusing sometimes, but not laugh out loud funny. I laughed at the FL Koran joke and this. I laugh so hard at "America's Funniest Videos" that my wife will grab the remote and change the channel.

9/27/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

"But as a general rule, I would say that one should be suspicious of powerful strangers who express open contempt for you, and who want to diminish your freedom in order to impose lifetime obligations on you that you yourself would impose if only you weren't such a retard."

OC home run hit! Brilliant.

wv: plate [Hands first across home... oww.]

9/27/2010 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

This is why, for example, there are so many different schools of psychoanalysis, because the actual theory one uses doesn't matter nearly as much as the state of one's own soul.

Also true of art - the materials one uses to create are far less important than the mind behind the image. Speaking of which, there's one more way this book has been helpful. I've been trying to decide what to do with my blog for a while. It may be time to come full circle back to its beginning with a new project that's started percolating in my mind. I mention it here because maybe some of you menschen can help me with it, once it gets going. But first, I think I'll have some catching up to do...

9/27/2010 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

"He has no earthly idea that the much deeper question about an economic system is the type of person it shapes and facilitates. And socialism simply produces an inferior man -- narrow, selfish, petty, greedy, envious, entitled, lazy, and misanthropic."

Was wondering what adjectives ( or perhaps you call them negjectives ) you would use to describe the man that capitalism produces?

Thanks for blogging your thoughts, quite the brain exercise for me, appreciate your positive exuberance.

Had to look up misanthropic and stumbled upon this site,
thought you and others might enjoy it:

http://insti.physics.sunysb.edu/~siegel/parodies/misanthrope.html

Tim

9/27/2010 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Tim,

This quote came to mind when I read your question.

"The truth is that economic competition is the very opposite of competition in the animal kingdom. It is not a competition in the grabbing off of scarce nature-given supplies, as it is in the animal kingdom. Rather, it is a competition in the positive creation of new and additional wealth" - George Reisman.

9/27/2010 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"I asked him which psychoanalytic program I should apply to, and he said, "first, pick a good analyst. Then just flip a coin." In other words, the only thing that really mattered was healing oneself. The rest was just icing on the cake. Besides, without the proper grounding in being, you wouldn't know which knowledge was true anyway."

Bob, I'm always on the lookout for "that post" to introduce your work to the boy. Might be this one.. Who knows. I'm no longer qualified to know what it's like to not know what goes on here.

9/27/2010 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

Rick

I agree. I'm thinking about my own sons. Maybe just tossing them in is best. And if they climb out, tossing them in again. A lot of things in life are like that.

9/27/2010 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Bro. Bartleby said...

A tree
in my mind
a tall redwood tree
I imagine
with eyes closed
limbs
touching
the blue sky
roots
grasping the earth
like fingers
holding
on for dear life
a loved one
in grief
in need
of comfort
yet another blink
the tall redwood
tree
and the sky
gone
and replaced
by another
thought

9/27/2010 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

(Bro. Bartleby can be found here.)

9/27/2010 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Our military are able to forge ties with the community by giving them to the children, who otherwise have nothing to play with but a Koran."

Careful, you'll put your I out with one of those things!

9/28/2010 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Thus, the knower is a function of Truth, not vice versa, as the typical superstitious secularist believes."

Indeed. Few things more startling than when you grasp that what you thought were just interestng facts, that were just factually true... actually seem to be alive and breathing... and then there's that feeling of being watched from the other side of the inwardly outwards door....

Wo.

9/28/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Anna, good Reisman quote.

9/28/2010 11:50:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home